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The Justice Dept's Torture Debate

Senior Justice Department lawyers in 2005 sought to limit tough interrogation tactics against terror suspects, but were overruled.

James Comey, then the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, tried to convince Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that some of the tactics were wrong and would eventually damage the reputation of the department.

The New York Times reported Comey sent an e-mail at the time describing his efforts to curtail the use and combination of the tactics that critics call torture.

By April 2005, the opinions were in final form, and Mr. Comey, who had set his own resignation for August, concurred in the 46-page opinion affirming the legality of the 13 techniques. But he told Mr. Gonzales that he strongly objected to Mr. Bradbury's second opinion, allowing multiple techniques to be used in a single interrogation session.

According to the Times, Gonzales said that he was "under great pressure" from Vice President Dick Cheney to complete memorandums authorizing interrogation techniques, and that President George W. Bush had asked about them.

Later, after expressing his concerns to Gonzales' chief of staff, Theodore Ullyot, and requesting more time to analyze actual interrogations, Ullyot told him the White House would not wait.

"I told him the people who were applying pressure now would not be there when the (expletive) hit the fan," Comey wrote in an e-mail obtained by the Times. "It would be Alberto Gonzales in the bull's-eye. I told him it was my job to protect the department and the AG, and that I could not agree to this because it was wrong."

A person familiar with Comey's concerns, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that Comey sought to put limits on the use of the interrogation tactics because he argued they were wrong on moral and ethical grounds, and they didn't work.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a matter still under investigation.

The Justice Department has been conducting a long-running investigation into the conduct of the lawyers who wrote legal memos authorizing the CIA to use a variety of harsh measures, including sleep deprivation, slamming suspects into walls and waterboarding - a form of simulated drowning - as means to make those terror suspects talk.

The memos were the subject of internal debates within the Bush administration and were later made public by the Obama administration. Following the memos' release, some critics of the past administration have called for those who authorized the methods to be prosecuted as criminals.

The Times reported on its Web site Saturday that even among those Justice Department lawyers who objected to some of the methods, there were few claims that specific methods violated the law banning torture.

In releasing the memos, President Barack Obama said no CIA officials would be prosecuted for following the legal advice they were given.

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